Patient-Handling Equipment Gives Health Care Workers a LiftBecause their jobs often involve lifting and moving patients, health care workers are at serious risk for back injuries. Many nurses endure back pain without taking time off or even reporting their injuries. What's the best way to keep nurses' backs healthy?
Training and education aren't enough. Special equipment to lift and move patients may help. But this kind of equipment can be expensive and slow patient transfers. In this study, the authors wanted to see whether having special equipment on hand actually reduced health care workers' back problems. That way, hospitals could know whether the costs were worth it.
Three hundred forty-six nurses and nurses' aides in three different types of hospital wards (medical, surgical, and rehabilitative) participated in the study. They were divided into three groups. The first group was told to go about their work as usual. They had limited access to patient handling equipment and no special training. The second group, the "safe lifting" group, had more access to manual equipment, such as transfer belts and sliding devices. The third group had a "no strenuous lifting" policy. This group had the most access to special equipment, including mechanical lifting machines and sliding devices. Both the "safe lifting" and "no strenuous lifting" groups also received three hours of intensive training on patient handling techniques.
Nurses and aides who had access to patient-handling equipment really did use it. In the "no strenuous lifting" group, health care workers reduced the amount of patient handling they did without assistance by nine tasks per shift. This change took effect within six months and lasted through the one-year follow-up. In contrast, changes in work habits made by the other groups did not last a year.
After a year of "no strenuous lifting," nurses and aides weren't as tired after their shifts. Both the "safe lifting" and "no strenuous lifting" groups had fewer complaints of back and shoulder pain. They also felt less physical discomfort from patient handling tasks and noted less physical fatigue. However, the "no strenuous lifting" group improved the most in these areas. A key finding is that they showed greater improvement in their comfort during patient handling tasks.
There were no differences in number of injuries between groups. But only about one-third of injuries in the "no strenuous lifting" group affected the back. Health care workers in this group more often injured their arms or necks. Notably, 75 percent of injuries involved the back among workers who didn't use the equipment.
Nurses and aides in both the "safe lifting" and "no strenuous lifting" groups felt safer from injury at the end of the study. In general, having special equipment on hand made the workplace healthier for health care workers. The authors hope that using this kind of equipment on a regular basis may keep nurses' backs safe from the heavy workloads required in the health care industry today.
A. Yassi, MD, MSc, FRCPC, et al. A Randomized Controlled Trial to Prevent Patient Lift and Transfer Injuries of Health Care Workers. In Spine. August 15, 2001. Vol. 26. No. 16. Pp. 1739-1746.
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